In the small town school I attended there was no kindergarten. We went from the safety of home right to first grade. The only introduction we had to that new world, besides our siblings who had gone before, was something called Spring Roundup. We went to school for part of a day in the spring to meet our teacher, our fellow classmates, and to get a sense of what it was all about. The only thing I now recall about that day was a circular game we played out in the schoolyard. You know, one of those games that appears to be designed so that we all feel a part of something, part of the circle, but then the singling-out starts. I did not like to be singled out. I'm sure I wasn't alone. Usually this meant a losing situation for pretty much every one in that circle. I couldn't tell you if I won or lost. Doesn't matter. All I knew was that I could feel the freedom of unstructured days slipping away.
I had gotten a taste of what this meant the previous year when one spring day, as I was playing some make-believe game with my cousin Mark under the clothes line (what is it with this clothes line?), his mom pulled up at the end of our driveway and Mark ran off to get in the car, hollering as he went that he was on his way to Spring Roundup. After the car pulled out of sight on that dirt road heading to town, I remember sitting there on the grass, feeling very alone. He was my last best hope and there it went, along with him, in a brown and tan car that I only and ever saw as our way to get to the lake for an afternoon swim on hot summer days. How could this be? It was as though I was watching myself from a short distance away, watching the life of someone else unfold. On that day, I knew everything had changed.
The next year, when I found myself at Spring Roundup, it was something no more to be resisted, but an inevitable bridge I had to cross.
As I looked around at that small sea of unfamiliar faces, my eyes kept going to Marlene, someone new, from somewhere else. She was dressed in a fancy, white ruffly dress and had long brown curls with a white bow, in what can only be described as a Lillian Gish look-a-like hairdo. Out of synch, and out of time, I was intrigued, but quietly embarrassed for her, in her out-of-place attire and her slightly southern accent. What was she doing here, in north central Minnesota, in our circle of mostly farm kids? She wasn't a distant cousin and she didn't go to our church. Could I be friends with this puzzling little thing? I was already desperately wanting to fly under the radar. Have you heard the saying that goes something like, "Don't draw fire. The people next to you frown on it?" No, friendship didn't appear to be an option. She stayed to herself pretty much anyway and so I didn't feel an obligation. Not as enlightened as I wish I'd been, I kept a safe distance and watched this strange little being in the midst of us.
Now, in retrospect, from the distance of many years, I see it differently. Maybe she was me, that part of me that needed to create someone else, someone even more out there, someone who could be a buffer between myself and the real world, the world I wasn't quite comfortable in yet. I'm starting to look at the possibility and even to embrace her. Now, she'd be the person I'd gravitate towards, knowing she might possibly be the one who held the key, the key that would help me unlock the mystery called childhood.
I did not sit down this morning to write about Marlene. I was planning to write about Dennis, who sat across from me in both first and second grade. But, the Universe had other plans. I think I needed to look at this, to see aspects of myself more clearly, that self that's part of the Greater Self, to make friends with that little girl that's me, and to know I hold the key, and always have.
Forgive me. I appear to be on a Winslow Homer bender again. They are:
"Sunlight and Shadow"
"Girl and Daisies"